Who Carries The Carriers?

Alan Bissett by Alasdair Moffat

Alan Bissett by Alexander Moffat

by Alan Bissett

‘There is no place more revolutionary and no time more exciting than right here and right now in Scotland,’ writes Andrew Redmond Barr of the National Collective, a congregation of artists in favour of Scottish independence.  The finest minds of our generation, to borrow from Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, are poised to reimagine Scotland from top to bottom: politically, economically, socially and culturally. The summer of 2014 – dare we call it the Summer of Independence? – could be to Scotland what 1967 was to London and San Francisco, its artists and radicals conjuring songs, essays, poems, speeches and plays which offer fresh vistas and challenge a hideously conservative status quo.  This process was spurred at the end of 2012 with the book Unstated: Scottish Writers on Independence, edited by Scott Hames, which featured essays by 27 writers, almost all of whom are in favour of Home Rule.

But no revolution comes without conflict.  An essay from one of the writers, Alasdair Gray, caused a furore in the Scottish arts not seen since Hugh MacDiarmid denounced Alexander Trocchi as ‘cosmpolitan scum’.  Gray described English people who come to Scotland to take a top arts job, as a springboard to a bigger one elsewhere, as ‘colonists’, naming the outgoing Creative Director of the National Theatre of Scotland, Vicky Featherstone, as one of them.  Gray was denounced in the media as a racist and anti-English bigot.  Featherstone, in an interview with The Herald that week, admitted to having felt ‘bullied’ in post because she was English.  This came a mere fortnight after Andrew Dixon, CEO of Creative Scotland, resigned following an onslaught of protest from artists about the perceived failure of the organisation.  Dixon, an Englishman, had admitted on taking the post that he knew very little about Scottish culture but was ‘willing to learn’.  This was not felt to be intrinsic to his failure, but was possibly what a lawyer might call circumstantial evidence.

This perfect storm of events has created an ongoing period of self-examination in the Scottish arts – who runs them and for what purpose – which has spilled into a broader discussion about Scottish identity, its inclusivity or otherwise, and the referendum itself.  One of Gray’s staunchest defenders, the novelist James Kelman, recently interpreted the attack on Gray in the light of the political and cultural subjugation of Scotland.  He begins his essay ‘Keeping Scotland British, and Britain English’, in the online journal From Glasgow To Saturn, by observing:

The British establishment is opposed to Scottish independence. Its campaign, developed over many years, identifies an area of conflict as ‘anti-Englishness’ and portrays as ‘anti-English’ numbers of people from Scotland, Ireland and Wales…My experience of this area of ‘conflict’ begins from the reaction to my early short stories published as a collection forty years ago.

Kelman’s point is borne out by the fact that Unstated, in which prominent Scottish writers discuss the biggest constitutional crisis the United Kingdom has ever known, received absolutely no review coverage anywhere in the UK.  ‘Anti-English’ remarks from one essay in the collection, on the other hand, were inflated into a massive news story on both sides of the border.  Kelman concludes:

The contempt for art revealed by the attack on Alasdair Gray is typical.  If nothing else, controversies such as this allow us to settle the matter of the distinctiveness of the Scottish tradition in literature, and our existence as a veritable community of communities, in other words, a country.

Some would beg to differ.  Former director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Hannah McGill, is vexed by the fetishising of ‘Scottishness’ in the arts, especially in determining who should or should not be appointed to chief posts.  She is quoted in a Scotsman article, entitled ‘Creative Scotland Chief Nationality “Not An Issue”’, as saying,

You have to trust the interviewing panels to appoint for the jobs that they are interviewing for.  I am not sure if I am regarded as being from Scotland or not, you would have to check my birth certificate.  If you did you’d find that I was born in Lerwick.  If you researched further you’d see that my Mum’s from Orkney and my Dad’s from Glasgow.  Even if we decided we wanted our panels to be run solely by people with qualifications in Scottishness, how would we enforce that?  Are we talking about an exam in Scottishness or actively barring people from taking jobs?  There is no word for that which doesn’t involve racist, to me.

Each of their positions are, in different ways, defensible and questionable.  The title of Kelman’s essay would be, to many, an accurate description of the Unionist agenda, and it’s possible to argue that the attack on Gray was co-ordinated by a media who seemed partisan, doing whatever it could to smear the Yes campaign.  However, many of Gray’s critics were not part of ‘the British establishment’, such as the playwright John Byrne, known for making theatre about the Scottish working-class.  The actor Tam Dean Burn, who has featured in adverts for the Scottish Socialist Party, tweeted that Gray’s comments were ‘idiotic’.  Film critic Mark Cousins tweeted that, ‘As a N Irish person who has lived in Scotland for 30 years I have always felt so welcome.  Until, that is, Alasdair Gray’s recent remarks.’  What makes things difficult for Kelman is the fact that not only were journalists who have nailed their Union Jack to the mast (predictably) appalled by Gray’s essay but so were many supporters of independence, such as playwright David Greig, who tweeted that, ‘Alasdair Gray’s got it so wrong…what people contribute to Scottish culture has nothing to do with birthplace or length of residency’.  Even the Scottish government, long-prone to quoting from Gray, said they ‘disagreed’ with him on this occasion.  It perhaps speaks well of them, and the Scottish arts, and Scotland in general, that the first concern of many was for English migrants who may have felt slighted or unwelcome.

In this spirit McGill advocates ‘trust’.  By warning about ‘entrance exams’ she guards against essentialist notions of what constitutes ‘Scottish’ and such appeals are, of course, necessary to a vibrant, inclusive and healthy nation.  It is not unreasonable to assert that appointments to the higher levels of the Scottish arts need not be Scottish, but is it really racist to suggest that they should demonstrate a deep understanding of the nation whose culture they will oversee?  This is rather like claiming that it’s sexist to ask a male applicant, who hopes to run the Glasgow Women’s Library, which female writers he enjoys.

Each side believes the other to be reactionary.  One makes the accusation of imperialism; the other of parochialism.  Yet somehow every Scottish artist, critic or commentator, especially those who call themselves progressive – which is almost everyone involved – must find a place within this debate.  Is there a ‘distinctive Scottish tradition’, as Kelman claims, or is indigenous art so vague a concept that anyone can create and curate it, regardless of their background?  Is Scottish art marginalised, and if so, by whom?  Is Scotland a colonised country?  The factionalism generated by these questions may be harmful to the independence movement and the country at large.  But equally problematic are the severe limitations placed on the discourse, in which the accusation of racism is levelled at anyone who asks why Scots are invisible at the top level of their own culture.  The ferocity of this censure may do more to prove that the Scottish arts have been colonised than disprove it.

I am a Scottish artist.  Autobiography is not evidence, but nor is it avoidable when discussing identity.  It is identity.  The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves become the stories we tell ourselves about our nation.  Both Kelman and McGill apply autobiography to bolster their points: Kelman mentions the reaction to his early work, McGill divulges the birthplace of herself and her parents.  In place of my autobiography, or theirs, insert your own, which may disprove mine, or theirs, but in this way we arrive at a composite national identity: a mosaic, sure, but with discernible patterns.

At the age of four I asked my father if he could take me to Scotland.  He explained to me that we lived in Scotland.  ‘No,’ I said, ‘I want to go to the real one.’  After some inquiry he managed to get out of me that by the ‘real’ Scotland I meant the one in cartoons and comics, where everyone played the bagpipes and where the Loch Ness Monster lived.  Around the same time, I came home from school and asked him why my teacher had told me to speak ‘proper English’, even though I wasn’t from England.

(Those who deny that Scotland is a colonised country ignore this most basic of points: we once spoke and wrote in Scots and Gaelic.  We now speak and write primarily in English.  English is also spoken in Ireland, America, Canada and Australia, and no-one bothers to suggest that these are not former colonies.)

Out of the mouths of babes.  In my small way, I was questioning my own social construction, seeing a disconnect between what the culture was telling me about Scotland and the reality around me.  Scots digest an ersatz identity, based on sporran and heather clichés, the ‘real’ Scotland to my four-year old self.  Later I would learn that these are variations on the Romantic tartanry which Walter Scott assembled for King George IV’s visit in 1822, and which, having been given Royal assent, has come to represent actual Scottish identity.  In the same way, Scottish football supporters wear ginger wigs and tartan tammies: they have absorbed the English comedian Russ Abbot’s demeaning stereotype ‘C U Jimmy’, a barely-intelligible comedy drunk in a kilt, and reproduced it as identity.  Yes, we repeat, we are comedy drunks!  Aren’t Scots daft!  Hic.

Many of Scotland’s writers, though, have long sought to preserve a deeper tradition.  It is what the novelist James Robertson refers to when he observed in a recent issue of Perspectives that Scottish literature represents what might be called:

a history of articulation, a continuity of narrative – something akin to – indeed, connected to – the carrying stream: of the folk tradition described by Hamish Henderson.  This is as true today as it was true of the great writers of the 20th Century Scottish Renaissance – MacDiarmid, Gunn, Gibbon, Muir, Mitchison, MacLean and others. Politically and culturally these figures both revived, continued and broke an inherited tradition.  To break tradition, understanding what it is you break, is the means of preserving it.

As Robertson suggests, inheriting tradition and innovating can be one and the same thing.  For each Scottish writer the question is: are you inheriting a tradition that comes from above or below?  Those named by Robertson, for example, form a ‘carrying stream’, an ongoing folk consciousness, the preserved history and language of the working or peasant class for whom the ‘higher’ voice of the establishment does not speak.  Robert Burns, perhaps aware of his celebrity, made a project of unearthing the songs of his forebears, which is why we are still aware of them to this day.  So it goes with the defiant imagination of the second Scottish Renaissance of the Eighties and Nineties, reacting to Thatcherism: William McIlvanney, Tom Leonard, Janice Galloway, Liz Lochhead, Irvine Welsh, Agnes Owens, Jeff Torrington, Alan Warner, Des Dillon, Duncan McLean, Jackie Kay, Kathleen Jamie, Alan Spence, Andrew Greig, Don Paterson, John Burnside and, of course, Gray and Kelman.  They preserve the ‘carrying stream’ and innovate within it, each of them uncompromising with the forces of literary authority or the market, unearthing with their language a full Scottish humanity and consciousness.  This tradition is being continued by the current generation, influenced by the previous one, including such writers as Jenni Fagan, Allan Wilson, Kerry Hudson, William Letford, Eleanor Thom, Mark McNay, Suhayl Saadi, Anne Donovan, Nick Brooks and Alison Miller.

Scots are drawn away from this consciousness by the invisible pull of power from the British state, a by-product of which is the reduction of it to something ‘parochial’ or ‘inward-looking’.  This is why – until an SNP government recently altered the situation – a Scottish child could go through their whole schooling and be guaranteed to encounter only one writer from their own country (Robert Burns).  This is why Scottish universities contain only one Department and one Professor of Scottish Literature, Glasgow University’s Alan Riach.

Another tactic is to pretend that Scottish literature barely exists, or that, where it does, it is ill-equipped to stand alongside the other literatures of the world.  Riach himself was once asked on the BBC’s Newsnight programme, by a straight-faced interviewer, ‘Is there such a thing as Scottish literature?’  That Riach was sitting next to the Scottish novelist A.L. Kennedy at the time makes this even more incongruous.  Either the interviewer sought to deny the fact of ‘such a thing’, or was simply unaware of it.  The question is revealing either way.  In August 2011, two of Scotland’s most internationally-visible literary critics, Andrew O’Hagan and Stuart Kelly, were asked in a podcast for The Guardian about new Scottish writers.  They were not able or willing to name a single one.  Kelly instead chose to dismiss the entire contemporary Scottish writing scene as ‘The Forsyte Saga on Buckfast’.  Here we see a highbrow variant on the C U Jimmy caricature.  Yet such voices speak for Scottish literature on the world stage.

For the British state the fear is that if Scots are exposed to too much of their own language, folk art and history, then they will become self-aware, and thus abandon their ‘duty’ in favour of autonomy.  British imperialism must thus work sleight-of-hand involving claims about Scottish culture.  Gray and Kelman have been making these arguments for decades, but it is only now – poised on the brink of a referendum – that reaction to them has become punitive.  Their assertions must be written-off as ‘anti-English’ and ‘bigoted’ rather than postcolonial, socialist or consciousness-raising.

There is a further, complex problem with their stance, however, which is simply that too many people in Scotland – both English and Scots – are deeply uncomfortable with it.  It is easy to dismiss everyone as the brainwashed foot-soldiers of British imperialism (even if some of them are).  Many are acting from a point of generosity and openness – McGill included – and a desire to keep Scotland welcoming and pluralistic.  We cannot ignore this sentiment.  Tam Dean Burn is not the enemy of James Kelman.  Hannah McGill is not the enemy of Alasdair Gray.  All, in their own ways, want a better country.  While it would be equally dangerous to the spirit of ‘openness’ to demand that post-colonial discourse be struck from the record, or that writers who ask such questions be pilloried as ‘racists’, it is not undue to ask that the many English people working in the Scottish arts be given welcome and respect.  The problem with the accusation of colonialism is that individuals – and their families, and their friends, and their colleagues – feel indvidually accused.  Naming names was perhaps Gray’s biggest mistake.  We must ask, then, if it was worth it and if it is fair.  A Scotland which is pulling together against the worst British government in living memory, in the direction of independence, is preferable to one where we are pointing at each other and asking: so what are you doing here?  A failed referendum vote on such terms, and a bitterly divided arts world, would be no kind of victory.

So if the new CEO of Creative Scotland is English, like the last one, so be it.  If the next director of the National Theatre of Scotland is English, like the last two, so be it.  If no Scot is ever appointed to a chief position in the Scottish arts again, so be it.  This might still be preferable to divisive talk of ethnicity, and enmity erupting where there was none.  Where I disagree with McGill is that non-Scots appointments surely must be able to demonstrate an appreciation for Scottish culture – especially, vitally, its ‘carrying stream’ – or we really are throwing the Scottish baby out with the inclusive bathwater.  We risk erasing deep traditions, and ourselves, in the process.

As McGill counsels, let’s trust the interview panels to know who they’re looking for.  Let’s welcome visitors – however long they decide to stay – and help them develop an understanding of the history and richness of our culture.  They could, after all, find themselves being part of a peaceful, democratic revolution.  Or they could be opposed to it.  We shall see.

(This essay was first published in Perspectives)



Categories: Commentary, Identity, Scottish Culture

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36 replies

  1. Great article, thanks! I have to admit though that I’ve never really understood what the purpose of Tam Dean Burn is? Maybe I’m just too low brow to understand what he’s all about.

  2. Dear Alan, good article. All the things you describe so well are the tensions present in a pre-independence culture. Camus expressed unpopular thoughts about Algeria in the 1950’s in relation to France and an independent nation established on the south bank of the Mediterranean as he saw many dangers. The duality of the arts is that they must both express and lead culture forward and in Scotland history has presented us with this political decision. Many critics and writers have vested interests in a No vote and many (more, I hope) have similar interests in a Yes vote. The difference is that the future is made up of words like “yes” and of course in a future Scotland we will need our own Camus’s to point out the dangers and help the emergent nation to avoid them. My experience of working in a few other countries is that in Iceland, for example, and Sweden, for example, it is considered normal to have Icelanders and Swedes running cultural institutions. These are two of the most open and internationally minded countries on Earth. A historical process will always throw up contradictions but the question for Scottish writers (and all Scottish artists) is this; if you vote No what kind of future are you imagining? Personally I have no faith in any government but I do have a deep belief in the people of Scotland born out of an ancient optimism. To quote from King Lear “nothing comes from nothing”. So we all must think of how best we can work for a better future for our country and the “something” we can imagine out of “nothing” begins with the referendum.

  3. Excellent article Alan, I have been arguing this case for the past couple of years and getting derision or stronger from many respondents.In fact the quote from Hannah McGill you mention was in response to a question I posed at a Creative Scotland seminar.I asked ” how Scottish should Creative Scotland be?” I asked of course because we were having the consultation seminar because of the crisis in Creative Scotland caused by the rejection of the daft plan to cut the 3 year funding of most of the major arts bodies.These crazy plans were hatched by a CEO and a creative director neither of whom had any knowledge of Scottish culture! Therefore it seemed obvious to me to ask this question and I also mentioned that most of the major arts organisations in Scotland were headed up by non Scots.Indeed the National Theatre of Scotland had just passed over David Mclennan the most successful producer and director in Scotland and co-founder of 7.84 for an Englishman whose main claim to fame was directing Alan Ayckbourn plays in Scarborough! However when I asked the question you would have thought I had made a bad smell, most of the creative types present rushed to dissasociate themselves and proclaim their internationalism in contrast to this near racism of my question, yes and Hannah did suggest it was racist!
    Only Pat Kane who was chairing the session gave me any support saying he would find it difficult to be an arts administrator in a country which he wasnt familiar with.Like Alan I dont think you have to be Scots to understand Scotland indeed I pointed out that the great John Mcgrath was a Liverpudlian but as he demonstrated in his work he really knew and understood Scotland.As for trusting the appointing panels I dont think its good enough,for example the board of the National Theatre of Scotland is made up of 6 people from business and 3 from the theatre.
    The truth is there still is a cultural cringe going on in Scotland that does come from being a colonised country.The assumption that someone from outside Scotland must be better,isnt it extraordinary that there has never been a Scottish director of the Edinburgh Festival in 67 years? Or that almost all our major national arts institutions are run by people from outside Scotland? Hamish Henderson was right about the ” carrying stream” but to paraphrase the great man ” ye need tae ken whaur the rivers are first”! Ironically the Hamish Henderson ” Carrying Stream Festival” which I am a regular attender of is run by a brilliant German born academic Paddy Bort who is an authority on Hamish and Scots culture.This shows you dont have to be Scottish born to run Scottish cultural organisations but surely you should know about Scotland?!

  4. Converts or Controllers? Surely that is the question.

  5. There is a huge amount here, and very welcome.

    Just one question – You write about “why Scots are invisible at the top level of their own culture”, yet later suggest that the question is “are you inheriting a tradition that comes from above or below?”

    So is the real question: (why) is there a top to the culture, and if so how can it be a place that bubbles up from below rather than be appointed from above?

    Is democratising the arts as much the point as greater autonomy or independence? Just as independence is – for so many of us – about restoring democracy and re-energising community (and the community of communities that is society) rather than about borders.

  6. British Imperialism is certainly alive and well – to take a blatantly partisan example, see the pages of the West Highland Free Press, where Roger (Calum’s Road) Hutchinson has taken it upon himself to conduct a rather nasty anti-MacDiarmid campaign, message: MacDiarmid was a mediocre poet, AND a lifelong fascist(!) like many involved in nasty Scottish nationalism.

    I like to think that all such ‘arguments’ are counterproductive, and may yet inadvertently cause a surge toward a ‘yes’ vote, but who knows?

  7. ‘Unstated’ wasn’t covered by media in or out of Scotland because it was published by Word Power, a Scottish publisher. You will see that media both in and out of Scotland don’t cover anything from Scottish publishers as a matter of course. Same end result, but Unstated wasn’t singled out; Scottish publishers are never reviewed in any of the corporate media outlets, as there is no publishing power of any significance here. Really want that to change, great article . . . thanks.

  8. Some cognate issues explored in an earlier Bellacaledonia piece

    http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2013/02/16/finding-scottish-art/

  9. Just in case you thought it isnt still happening the new CEO of Creative Scotland was announced today and surprise surprise she isnt Scots and doesnt live in Scotland! Yes Janet Archer has been to Scotland and chaired a few meetings but surely there must have been someone from Scotland capable of doing the job.It would have been good to ask her some questions about this but she doesnt live here and she is off on holiday tomorrow!

  10. Another enmeshed quisling pops up – its so obvious alan bissett has been aware of creative scotlands next appointment, what a shameless bit of manouvering. The plantation owners are wonderful people to talk to and make great lemonade, let’s not make this talk of ending discrimination personal folks, as i meet them at openings on a regular basis. Not one of the national collective represent me, or any other genuine creative in this country or any genuine independence minded scot.

  11. I don’t understand how anyone who speaks neither Gaelic nor Scots can understand the cultural needs of Gaelic- and Scots-speaking communities. These may be minority languages now, but they are the bedrock of our culture.

  12. I’m afraid that Scotland is culturally an English run colony. It’s not just in the Arts either. Try watching the Scottish News or Radio Scotland, almost every spokesperson, expert, authority figure etc. with the exception of (mainly politicians) is English. Why? they account for only 9% of the population, but English candidates either are appointed because of the Scottish cringe by Scots, or Incumbent English employed in these organisations are discriminating against Scots, by selecting their own fellow nationals. They represent a disproportionate percentage of top jobs in the Arts ,Education ,Health and Social Care sectors.
    I believe both reasons are the case….but to see this as a situation which is unacceptable means that I and others like me are dubbed racist. Unfortunately, for the defenders of this situation, I am not racist. I would not accept this state of affairs in any other country. Each state should encourage foreign nationals with the talent and understanding of the host country to immigrate and work to enrich that state, but no group should be allowed to de facto be allowed to dominate and distort the host country’s culture into a parody or slave of their home country. This is what has happened for three hundred years to Scotland. There are many examples of English appointees to major artistic posts who have disdained any focus on giving their organisation a distinct Scottish flavour. Scottish Universities are dominated by English academics, with St. Andrews being the most obvious example.
    Moreover, the English themselves would not tolerate foreign nationals running most of their institutions…think of the abuse the Scottish ‘mafia’ under Gordon Brown received without any reply. Think of the constant racist abuse thrown at Scottish people daily by the msm and ‘comedy’ programmes.
    People have become afraid of being able to state the obvious for fear of the ‘R’ word being thrown at them. There is nothing wrong or distasteful about wanting Scotland to be run by Scots ‘identifiers'( hopefully citizens in the future!) of whatever ethnic or racial origin, but the homogeneous English domination of our cultural institutions is not a healthy situation for any small country such as Scotland that is looking to discover its own authentic identity.

  13. Great article Alan. Disagree with Hugh on second point. It doesnt matter if Janet Archer isnt Scottish so long as she understands, as Alan say, the “carrying stream”. Don’t know anything about her so cannae comment on that although I do like the fact she has a background in dance rather than business. That augurs well. Will wait and see.

    KW

    • Well KW I have nothing against dancers and I dont think you have to be Scots to understand Scotland but it might help if you lived here for a bit!

  14. I just flicked from reading this excellent piece of analysis to the BBC’s main news page – not BBC Scotland but the main UK-wide one. The “latest news” banner that streams along the top has 2 items. One is Prince Philip being hospitalised. Fair enough. Many people are royalists, and he and his wife have worked hard in their public role whatever else one might think of royalty. The other banner is that there has been a smash and grab by 2 men on a moped using axes on the plate glass windows at Selfridges in London. I kid you not. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-22808576 . There’s even a picture with a caption that informs the nation: “There were pieces of broken glass on the floor from show cabinets that were shattered.”

    I’m thinking to myself. Wait a minute, A few weeks ago I held a woman’s hand feeling for her pulse on a Glasgow street after she had been run over apparently in the context of a sectarian squabble. I’d heard nothing on the news, but concerned that I could find no pulse, and we were just about to start mouth-to-mouth when the ambulance arrived, I yesterday asked the lollipop man. “Oh she’s buried,” he said, explaining the lack of pulse.

    So there you have it. Woman dies on Glasgow street. So what? A smash and grab at Selfridges in Oxford St. National breaking news story. And they wonder that we feel that things can be a little asymmetrical?

    I love the idea of the Summer of Independence. I look forward to a future that, as Catherine Lockerbie once said of the Edinburgh Book Festival, should be “very Scottish and very international.” It is the artists to whom we must look to waken up the national consciousness. We are a peoples (plural), and must let that breathe.

  15. After fifty years away from Scotland it is still daily that my accent is commented on or conversely a ‘joke’ about being Scottish. And YES I look forward to a Yes for Scottish Independence because as a colonized people there is no way that the place will progress to become something much better than what it is today. And I am with Gray, Kelman and MacDiarmid and others of that ilk. Long may their words be spoken and listened to.

  16. Whenever I am accused of being a racist for bemoaning the disproportionate amount of English appointees within the Scottish Arts and Media, my reply is;
    “Well there are plenty of highly intelligent and articulate Polish, Scandinavians, Germans, Asians etc, etc, who have not only chosen to live work and make their lives in Scotland, but are actively interested in it’s history,languages and many other aspects of the dazzling Scottish cultural spectrum……. I haven’t noticed too many of THEM presenting the weather on BBC Scotland, reading the news on Radio Scotland, or securing the top jobs within the funded, Scottish Arts
    However, I couldn’t help but notice, that the English weather presenter Stav Danaos, lately of BBC Scotland, now seems to have high-tailed it over the border and buggered off, back down south to further his career….Aye the strength of commitment of some of these folk, to living and working in Scotland, fairly tak’s yer breath away……

  17. Aye, you an all Alan ….the struggle for independence is the preserve of the downtrodden, the people that have been damaged by the self talk of unionism all their lives, the could and should have been contenders, not a pedestal for self aggrandising wallopers with lamentable haircuts.
    I’m not going to insult the general public by trying to persuade them that there’s a bunch of artists out there who have altruism at the the very core of their beings, when they know fine we’re shitebags that would pawn our grannies to get a part in take the high road.
    You’ll notice I’ve included myself in this, yes – I too am a shitebag.
    If its a straight choice between saving drowning kittens and getting some cash from creative scotland, i’ll leave the sack to float down the burn.
    Let’s leave talk of independence to the good folk.

    Please buy my new album.

    • Sorry, but as someone who has been out there making speeches for Yes Scotland, Radical Independence, Socialists for Scotland and Labour for Independence in the Gorbals, Orkney, Ullapool, Newton Stewart, Cupar, Livingstone and Clydesdale in the last month alone, for no money whatsoever, I reject your patronising and pessimistic assumptions.

  18. Let’s go easy on each other, folks. I don’t know either of you, but this slagging match is for me spoiling a good article. We need to try and hold the high ground even when provoked. And plenty provocation there will be. We need to work on inner processing, our own psyche, as well as the political psyche of the nation. That’s hard, because most of us are conflicted, contradicted, complicit in one way or another, and those things are easily drawn out in the rough and tumble. We need to try and “dodge the curst conceit o’ bein’ richt…” Damn, it’s hard, but Scotland expects.

  19. Dear everybody, I admire Alan Bissett but can we heed Alastair McIntosh. The decision about Scotland’s future is too important for a self defeating rammy, much as enjoy a good rammy. We will become free trough the evolution, politically, of the people of Scotland. This entire thing is about much more than a referendum. The politicians follow the people,always. Read the opening of War and Peace if you don’t believe me. What is important is that we articulate opinion. No shouting.

  20. “Let us try to do a pueblo corn dance and see how far we get. Most ballet dancers think they can. It demands no muscles they haven’t got. But the Indians can make the rains come.”

    (Dancer and Choreographer Agnes De Mille from ‘Dance to the Piper’)

  21. Well Annie we now have a CEO of Creative Scotland who is a dancer!

  22. I wrote 2 reasoned letters on the new CEO of Creative Scotland to the Scotsman and the Herald but neither published them! Nor were there any other letters published on the topic,do you think the papers aren’t interested or perhaps don’t want any criticism of her appointment?

  23. Well, Hugh, I’m not an ‘artist’, but I would ‘imagine’ that the best course of action would be for the natives to support her and teach her the steps with some good old fashioned Scottish spirit. That way she might even manage to make the rains come :-)

    Good luck!

  24. Well, metaphorically speaking, swap the rain fer some sunshine ;-)

    Yer stuck wi’ her either way!

    • True and I hope she will bring us sunshine lets face she cant do worse than the last lot but I remain puzzled that in the over 100 applications we couldnt find someone who lives in and knows Scotland to do the job. Of course that also goes for the Edinburgh Festival, the National Theatre of Scotland,Scottish Opera, The National Gallery etc etc etc!

  25. Let’s not leave social class and subculture out of this. To do the kind of jobs you’ve just named, Hugh, means being connected in with the shibboleths of an elite high culture social class. It goes right through to nuances of speech, how you shake hands, and even how you hold your knife and fork – very subtle markers of identity that communicate at a mostly unconscious level but which cause doors to be opened or left closed. In contrast, classical Scottish culture(s) is a popular high culture – thus the deeper meanings of democratic intellect and Scots internationalism.

    Most Scots with the suitable qualifications for senior arts policy/admin jobs probably lack that elite traction unless they have been to Scottish private schools, in which case, they have probably not been immersed in popular high popular high culture because their culture reference points and identity markers will have been differently constellated. I mean by popular high culture a culture that is “high” in the sense of being historically rooted and highly refined, and yet popular in being of the ordinary people, an so the likes of pibroch, Gaelic psalm, our metaphysical literature and Scots philosophy (see Alexander Broadie) such as led JF Ferrier to write in “Scottish Philosophy” (1856):

    “It has been asserted, that my philosophy is of Germanic origin and complexion. A broader fabrication than that never dropped from human lips, or dribbled from the point of pen. My philosophy is Scottish to the very core; it is national in every fibre and articulation of its frame. It is a natural growth of old Scotland’s soil, and has drunk in no nourishment from any other land.”

    In consequence, the world of elite high culture in Scotland is perhaps most readily served by those have class-cultural traction with that world. I say this as one who was born in Doncaster of an English mother. I was taught to walk in both worlds. Until recent years, it would not have occurred to me to point to my own English background because the world of my Scots father and Hebridean upbringing and education has largely subsumed it. However, when I see how class and culture play out in academia, arts, and the control of our physical land, I think it is time we stared to grow in consciousness of what is going on. We need to understand colonisation less in political terms, and more in psychological terms, and that as something that in all parties, is largely unconscious, and therefore can leave good people all round a little stunned.

    It is not enough to say, for example, “We must democratise and make these art forms accessible, educating the masses to their wonders.” That is a top down approach. Instead, we must start from bottom up, and understand why it is that grassroots people so often describe elite high art as “nae for the likes o’ us.” You do not have to be Scottish to do that, but you do have to understand ordinary Scottish people’s lives, and to have won their respect and endorsement if you are to speak on their behalf.

    Last time I wrote something like this I had a journalist on who drew me out beyond my sphere of competence, and I had to spend some time rebuilding bridges. Let me say this time that my own perspectives on this are limited, and as I’m busy writing just now I would not want to expand further. Suffice to throw these thoughts into the melting pot of this debate. But one last thing. I feel for ordinary English folk who have been long ago robbed of their own high popular cultures by the social class systems that the Norman feudalism forced on them, and that we need to conduct this debate in a way that builds solidarity with them. I thought that Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony last year was a stunning example of that potential in English culture. It is time that English history taught popular English history – the 17th’s radicals and all that – and not just the stuff the reinforces an imperialistic worldview and damages what is great and wonderful in English identity. As such, what is happening in Scotland is of great importance also for radical England.

    • Great contribution Alastair and I agree class matters as well as culture and that applies to the boards of the great and the good who make these appointments,the Sir Sandy Crombie’s of this world!

  26. Yes, it is decidedly strange that our ‘creative’ bodies appear to be ‘institutionally racist’ towards their own home grown talent – especially since they are, essentially, culturally specific entities. But better men/women have explained this anomaly in more detail than I ever could! One thing’s for sure, with the resignation of Creative Scotland’s last chief exec, all those other bodies will need to up their game, else those pesky ‘creatives’ will be hammering at their doors next!

  27. I am not an artist but looking at this row from the outside it seems to me quite evidently to be about class as much as – if not more – than about nationality. It is much the same in other fields and self evidently wrong that any aspect of public life should be controlled by an elite. I recognise it is difficult for politicians to intervene without being accused of overstepping the mark – particularly at this time when unionists are actively looking for reasons to attack. But I do think the Scottish Government took their eye off the ball allowing Creative Scotland to be set up as it was. They need to get that properly sorted out and get it doing the job properly. Hopefully the new woman will have some idea of what she is getting into otherwise it will come as a bit of a shock!

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